Building Designs and Maintainability: Working Together in Harmony

By Tony Simpson

Prestigious and influential design accolades are often awarded for handsome and sustainable building designs. But because maintainability awards are rare – if they exist at all – building designers are not incented to consider the cost to maintain a facility over its life, be it 20 or 200 years. Building designers would help their clients if they were to consider not only the beauty, function, and LEED points of a facility design, but also the Expected Useful Life (EUL) and the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a facility. This is also true of facility managers replacing building components.

Specifying the right materials and components has a huge impact on EUL and TCO

For decades, the facilities management industry has measured deferred renewal or deferred maintenance backlogs. It is well documented that these backlogs do not decrease; in fact, they generally increase until the Facility Condition Index reaches the threshold at which a gut renovation or demolition-and-reconstruction are the only options.

This is the first in a series of blogposts that discusses some of the pros and cons of designs that impact the lifecycle of a building’s components and the strain they may place on an already underfunded maintenance budget. The cost of some of these items may amount to a negligible percentage of the total price tag of the building, but the maintenance cost of the items may become a significant percentage of the facility manager’s annual maintenance budget.

Building Exteriors and Site Components

Facility exteriors and their sites should be designed to stand up to local conditions. In today’s facility management world, funds are rarely available to clean building exteriors, including windows. The exterior of a building should be as long-lasting and maintenance-free as possible.

Exterior metal panels require regular washing. White or light-colored panels require more frequent cleaning – and laborious hand-cleaning yields the best results. Most facility management departments do not have funding to clean glass windows, never mind metal cladding. Keeping metal panels pristine levies a huge additional burden on underfunded maintenance budgets. The reality is the cleaning will likely not get done often enough, if at all. The result is a dirty building with a reduced visual appeal.

EIFS is often a maintenance challenge. Light colors are particularly prone to showing grime in poor air quality areas. Custom cleaning methods or recoating may be the only option to make the panels look new again. EIFS panels are also easily damaged and subject to water infiltration. Patching EIFS is possible but must be performed by specialized vendors. Then, of course, the patches are obvious, so the whole panel requires recoating.

Corrugated metal panels also pose cleaning issues. Dust and dirt collect on the horizontal metal corrugations, then drip down the face of the building during rain, causing staining. Metal exterior and interior wall panels are perfect traps for dust and dirt, necessitating future attention.

Exterior handrails and guardrails. Two factors affect the Expected Useful Life and Total Cost of Ownership: material type and installation methods. Metal painted rails, galvanized painted rails, galvanized unpainted rails and stainless steel rails are the most common handrail applications.

Stainless steel rails are expensive initially but hold up to the elements well. They are low maintenance, should not require refinishing. and should have a long EUL if the correct stainless steel is specified in harsh climates.

Painted steel and painted galvanized rails, on the other hand, will need to be continually repainted over the years. Jewelry, especially rings, and skateboards damage painted rails constantly. Paint on galvanized surfaces also peels and chips. Galvanized rails without paint make a better option, as long as they are manufactured well and installed correctly. Galvanized paint is typically used at the welded joints and connections. These areas show rust first and one should ensure that the complete rail is hot-dip galvanized after fabrication. The holes often seen on the underside of the rails should be filled with metal filler to avoid moisture entry into the finished posts and rails.

Installation of rails usually occurs after the main concrete structural elements are completed. On concrete ramps or walls, the vertical stanchion pockets are typically cored prior to installation. The handrail posts are then grouted into the holes using non-shrink grout. ISES assessors have seen many applications where this grout has settled and forms a water pocket. The water causes the posts to rust and, in some cases, the vertical block walls and concrete will break off as the rusting occurs due to expansion. Grout around the posts should be installed in such a way that water flows away from the posts.

The photos below illustrate these points.

The next blog in the series will review exterior doors and roofing options with recommendations.

Painted galvanized handrails: Not painting the rails would initially save money and eliminate the need to repaint annually


Rusting rails cause concrete to break off due to incorrectly installed rail posts that allow water to collect.


If handrail pockets are not set correctly, water buildup occurs and concrete blocks crack and break away as rust expands.


When holes from the hot-dip galvanizing are not filled, water enter the hollow tubes and causes rust.


Field-fabricated rails rust and posts that do not have the cored holes filled correctly allow water to collect, generating more rust.


Paint peeling off painted galvanized rails is unsightly.


Galvanized railing fabricated in the field and not hot-dipped but sprayed with a galvanized spray is unattractive.


High-quality stainless steel maintenance-free railings are worth the initial expense.

Tags: building design, TCO, EUL, total coast of ownership, expected useful life, EIFS, corrugated metal panels, handrails, painted steel, galvanized rails, exterior metal panels, guardrails

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